Topics:  Cheng Lei media incident; Australia-China relationship;

08:10AM AEST
18 June 2024


Monique Wright: Well, now to the bizarre moment when Chinese officials attempted to block the view of an Australian journalist during a media event in Canberra. Footage from the press conference shows a man in a blue suit and a woman in a brown coat, attempting to block the view of Cheng Lei during the event, with Anthony Albanese and Chinese Premier Li Cheng.


Matt Shirvington: Cheng Lei famously served three years in a Chinese jail after she was charged with providing state secrets to foreign organisations. She says she wasn’t surprised by what happened and finds it quite amusing. Joining us for more is the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, good morning to you. Well, can you believe Chinese officials did this to an Australian journalist at a media event in Canberra?


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Shirvo. Look, this is a reminder that we are two very different countries with different systems of government. We’re a democracy. We value freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. And of course, they are not attributes that China has. It was completely inappropriate, though, for this to happen on Australian soil in Australia’s Parliament House. It shouldn’t have occurred. And it’s also terribly counterproductive. If you think about the fact that here we are talking about this, rather than what was achieved out of the visit, and how we might be working through difficult issues between our countries rather than this inappropriate behaviour by Chinese officials.


Monique Wright: Okay, so you have come out and called this out. You’ve called it unacceptable conduct. What should the government do at the moment? Because the Chinese premier is still in Australia. He’s going to be in Perth today. Should they be calling out this behaviour by the officials and making sure that this doesn’t happen again, or risk offending the Chinese premier?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Mon. it shouldn’t be a matter of offence. Chinese officials should, out of courtesy offer Cheng Lei an apology. But the Prime Minister should also have been far clearer than he was yesterday. He came out to his press conference and seemed to pretend that he knew nothing about it. Well either his office needs to apologise for him, for not briefing him properly, or he needs to apologise to Australians for misleading them because it was all over the screens for a good period of time before the PM did that press conference, and it’s frankly unbelievable that he was unaware of it.


Matt Shirvington: Simon, let’s talk about some of the potential positives to come out of this visit. The Prime Minister, the Chinese Premier, have made a number of new deals over the past few days, including a new defence hotline to avoid military mishaps, of which we’ve reported on over the last six months. Will that make a difference?


Simon Birmingham: Well, this is welcome. It’s similar to something that President Joe Biden negotiated with President Xi over the last couple of years. But it’s about trying to stop escalation happening when things go wrong. Importantly, we need to still keep stressing the message. Things shouldn’t go wrong in the first place. The type of incidents we’ve seen a result of Chinese military acting in too aggressive a manner in pushing the boundaries in ways they shouldn’t have, and their conduct needs to change so that this hotline hopefully doesn’t need to be used to avoid that type of escalation in the future.


Monique Wright: All right. Simon Birmingham, thanks very much for being with us this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, guys. My pleasure.